Law in Contemporary Society

Ali in Wonderland

-- By WilliamCoombs - 19 Feb 2016

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” – Muhammad Ali

Six Existential Crises Before Breakfast

Finals week can make people particularly prone to wondering, “What is it all for?” Personally, I wonder all the time. If I consider my life in a wide scope, it’s hard not to feel insignificant. I’m just one person on a planet in a universe, only here for ~80 years while time is infinite. And I’m just going to die in the end anyway, so what can I possibly accomplish that would be worthwhile?

This makes it important to narrow the scope. When I was on chemo, my life was broken up into three-week cycles. One week during which medicine was administered, and two weeks to recover. I could never eat during the week I was receiving medicine because I was too nauseous. But as I gained my appetite back over the remaining two weeks, I would obsess over food. I couldn’t eat a lot in terms of quantity, but I have never been more aware or appreciative of how incredible food can be. Having only just recovered from feeling so sick, and knowing that another cycle was right around the corner, made the ability to taste a flavor and enjoy it something worth getting excited about.

Now I live on eggs and rice. I eat in the most cost-effective and time-effective way possible. I’ll find myself forcing myself to eat PB&J’s because I know I need calories and that’s all my stomach will allow me on account of my cold-call induced anxiety. If chemo-Billy could see law school-Billy he would slap me in the face because I’m being unappreciative and wasteful. Wasteful even of what could come out of one bite.

Life can be a bite. You don’t have to look at it in terms of the universe or infinite time, but can instead view it in whatever scope allows you to see just how much value is really here. I can sit with my friends, in the sunlight, and drink a Coca-Cola, and enjoy it…That’s unreal to me. Out of an entire universe that will continue forever, somehow I am lucky enough to be alive and able to consciously enjoy what life has to offer. I have friendship and Coke right this very moment. Existential crises are easy, but they’re a waste of my damn time.

Remove the Impossible

I used to think I wanted to be an actor. I felt that creativity added value to my life and other peoples’ lives because of the different ways it can bring enjoyment. Personally, I loved television as a form of creativity, and I thought contributing to the entertainment industry, which distributes creativity to people via television, would be a good career goal. So I signed up for “Fundamentals of Acting,” and realized that I hated acting. I then thought I wanted to be a screenwriter. I signed up for “Creative Writing,” and realized I was wrong again. I then applied to law school, hoping that as an entertainment lawyer I could still have a tangential connection to the industry.

One year into law school, I don’t even know what an “entertainment lawyer” is, let alone want to be one. But what a ridiculous route I took if I had actually wanted to be connected to the entertainment industry. I entirely changed my “career plans” after taking one class in a subject. I didn’t even try to find out if I actually liked acting, or writing, or entertainment. They all just felt hard, or unattainable, so I quit and turned to something else.

One year into law school, I have learned that there are a lot of problems in the world, and I have learned that consequently there are a lot of ways to help people who have problems. If I can find passion in a career that helps people, then I can open up more room in those peoples’ lives for enjoyment – whatever that means to them.

Helping people with problems requires a commitment on my part with two important components. First, I have to choose how specifically I want to help, and accept that whatever I choose comes at the expense of at least some other choices. Here, it has helped me to realize that the benefit of “keeping your doors open” may not be so great, especially when every door you can dive through leads somewhere you would be happy to land. Second, I have to decide how deeply I want to commit myself. It can be scary to really try at something when success seems impossible. Maybe the people you want to help have such fundamental problems that trying feels pointless. But “if you don’t do what you can with what you have, then what does it matter what you have?” And furthermore, I’ll get to live through the whole thing anyway. The bottom line is that I have to make an intelligent choice about what I want to do, and I have to really try to achieve my goals. Otherwise, I’m being wasteful in the deepest sense of what I can give myself and of what I can give to others.

This morning I drank the best fresh-squeezed orange juice I’ve ever had in my life. Every sip had juice vesicles – extra pockets of juice within the juice. Tell me what’s impossible now.

There's a great deal here now, vastly improved over the first draft, focused in the right place, and very effective. But from the law teacher's point of view, the pivot of the draft is the minimalist, intentionally half-revelatory comment about "cold call anxiety" strong enough to deprive you of appetite and change your eating habits.

This is an emotion close to what we call "stage fright," or the surprisingly widespread American fear of public speaking. If you have it in law school, perhaps it also affected your early experiences in acting class. This is neither something to be ashamed of nor something to be suffered through. Now that you are in a mood to do the impossible, you will be glad to know that this is by no means impossible to change.

The cognitive behavior therapy approaches ("think of the audience as though they were all in their underwear," or some such piffle) may provide a "technique" for overcoming the stage fright. But, as you see, there's more to it than can be reached that way, and much more benefit to you, broadly and not just specifically about law school classes, from approaching the change through a different route.

Another Billy, neither stoically surviving chemo nor silently attending law school, concentrating on adding to his skills in helping people make things happen in society using words, one act of speaking up at a time, is coming into existence, reblending parts that haven't been eble to work together so effectively before. Of course he needs good orange juice first thing in the morning, and he'll make sure he gets it. Whatever helps to prompt, nurture, and sustain that personality state you will recognize and reinforce. If the man who was Cassius Clay could take all he had and make Muhammad Ali out of himself, you are trying to tell us both, you can do something just as big. You're right. But you should take fewer punches to the head anyway.

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r4 - 29 May 2016 - 12:44:23 - EbenMoglen
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